Camille Henrot 'Is it possible to be a revolutionary and love flowers?'
Septemner 6 - October 6, 2012
Kamel Mennour is pleased to present Camille Henrot’s second solo exhibition at the
Bouquets carrying the names of books, an ideal library as an artificial garden… what lies
behind such an incongruous juxtaposition? This space, in which we walk through as we
would in a library, throws into question the fundamental relationship of books to
flowers through its thorny title: ‘Is it possible to be a revolutionary and love flowers?’
With the third part of this equation, we get to the heart of the work. Camille Henrot
quotes Marcel Liebman’s account of the words of one of Lenin’s colleagues: “You start
by loving flowers and soon you want to live like a landowner, who, stretched out lazily
in a hammock, in the midst of his magnificent garden, reads French novels and is waited
on by obsequious footmen” (1). The love of flowers would appear to be a slippery slope
towards the practice of something no less counter-revolutionary: literature. Just as the
freshness of flowers revives the colour of a dead body, literature soothes our troubles.
Must we, in fact, choose between revolution and consolation?
By translating her books into flowers in a single gesture, Camille Henrot perpetuates, in
her own way, the Japanese art of the bouquet, where the arrangement of flowers is
supposed to reflect the state of mind of the person who creates it. From April 2011
to April 2013, Camille Henrot decided to make nothing except ikebana based on her
collection of books, thereby giving these a purely tangible existence, a return to their
primal element: the plant.
Her production of ikebana is linked to the idea of ‘art as autotransformation’ as imagined
by John Cage (How to Improve the World (You Will Only Make Matters Worse)), a
book which here is embodied in a unique biological endigia planted on a kenzan, the
traditional tool of Japanese ikebana, which oddly echoes one of Cage’s recurring
preoccupations mentioned by the artist: “days spent searching for non-synthetic food”.
So, like a book, ikebana concentrates in one object the entirety of a thought, brings
together disparate fragments, reconciles opposites in a whole of global dimensions.
If, as Jean-Christophe Bailly wrote in Le propre du langage, the library is a polyphony, the
environment of ikebana becomes a cosmogony where heterogeneous thoughts form a
harmonious whole, based on the principle of the bouquet itself, an assemblage of
uprooted elements, cut off from their context and reunited in a synthetic whole.
Whether they play on taxonomy, their ‘palimpsestic’ power, the vulgarisation of the
language of flowers or the history of their origins, the mysterious forces that act with
the aim of creating the bouquet demonstrate an ultra-lucid language. In reinterpreting
the ancestral art of the bouquet, Camille Henrot literally sweeps away the rigid
hierarchy between the sensory and the intellectual arts that belongs to cyclical time
(that of nature) and historical time (that of the revolution). “In my view, the thoughts
produced by literature, philosophy or anthropology form an integral part of daily life; in
a way, they are also ‘decorative objects’, being displayed here to create a stimulating
and calming environment”, she explains. In that sense, she perpetuates the perspective
of her work by placing herself in an ahistorical vision of time and by reintegrating
rationality into all human behaviour.
In this literature transcribed into flowers, spirit and substance engender one another.
And like the values embodied in natural things, flowers that are supposed to be
innocuous take on, in the hands of the artist, the guise of powerful and destructive
weapons. Camille Henrot puts in place a lapidary language the phrasing of which is
liberating. Now we understand why revolutions appropriate the names of flowers: the
Carnation Revolution in Portugal, the Rose Revolution in Georgia, that of the Tulip in
Kirgizstan, Saffron in Burma, and Jasmine in Tunisia. In reality, with these ikebana we reach
the heart of a principal of resistance violently opposed to all forms of power and
authority: the principal of pleasure.
Camille Moulonguet, July 2012
(1) Marcel Liebman, extract from Leninism under Lenin, the Conquest of Power, 1973.